NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three important questions facing the Montreal Canadiens.
[Canadiens 31 IN 31: Season preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the Numbers]
1. Will Max Pacioretty be here to start the season?
There's no clear answer. A five-time 30-goal scorer in the NHL, Pacioretty's offense was not up to par last season, when he had 37 points (17 goals, 20 assists) in 64 games before a season-ending knee injury.
The 29-year-old captain can become an unrestricted free agent July 1; general manager Marc Bergevin refuses to discuss whether he is negotiating with Pacioretty.
"I've had a lot of success playing in Montreal and I'm very proud of that," Pacioretty said. "And ideally what I want to be is a Montreal Canadien for life, but we know that things aren't ideal right now so obviously things will change, I'm not sure what, and we'll see what happens."
Video: 31 in 31: Montreal Canadiens 2018-19 season preview
2. How will the defensemen manage until December without Shea Weber?
The Canadiens will begin this season facing one of the biggest challenges they struggled in vain to overcome last season: the prolonged absence of Weber.
New assistant coach Luke Richardson will be tasked with getting the most out of the defensemen until mid-December when Weber, 32, is expected to return from right knee surgery.
Jeff Petry stepped up and had a NHL career season with 42 points (12 goals, 30 assists) in 82 games with Weber limited to 26 games before he had season-ending surgery on his left foot. A lot will be expected of Victor Mete, 20, after he had seven assists and was plus-5 in 49 games as a rookie.
"It's a big concern," Richardson said, "but it's the time of the year that it gives you time to plan around it and worry about the guys that are able to play. And there's some great young players I'm looking forward to working with and I've done that quite a bit with Ottawa, with the young players coming up and in the American [Hockey] League in Binghamton for four years."
Video: Weber expected to miss 5-6 months after knee surgery
3. Can Carey Price bounce back?
Hey, it's only the weight of crushing expectations. But make no mistake about it, as goes Price, so go the Canadiens' hopes of making it back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing the postseason for the second time in three years.
The 2014-15 winner of the Hart and Vezina trophies broke Jacques Plante's record for most wins by a Montreal goaltender last season, but the 30-year-old was 16-26-7 in 49 games with a 3.11 goals-against average and .900 save percentage.
"Our team … has to play a lot better," Bergevin said. "Regardless of who's on defense, if Carey has a tough year again, it's going to be hard. So to me he's still one of the best goalies in the world and I totally have faith he'll be back to the Carey Price that we know."
Video: WPG@MTL: Price sprawls across crease to stone Ehlers